Radiohead – The King Of Limbs (self-released)
It’s a slight thing. Eight tracks, quite as pale and wan as a Thom with an H should be and certainly nowt to do with last year’s big ‘n’ bashy alterno drama queens, the never-knowingly-understated National and Arcade Fire, although it’s likely to get – has already had – quantum amounts of furore even compared to their comprehensive lauding. And it’s pretty much what you thought it would be.
If you loathe Thom Yorke’s toothached keening, you’re not going to love this. If you want something as awkwardly fruggable as ’15 Step’, the geek glitch dance par excellence, you’re going to be disappointed. If you wanted hairpin changes of direction: this freewheels straight down the line. I speak as someone who long ago caved in to loving Radiohead. I started off with hate: obvious, white boy guitarery with misery dripping out the sleeves of their raggedy shirts, when what I wanted was ferocious girls making space music. But they grew on me, because they were very good at the misery and, despite the Yorkeian whine, their songs clicked, from the early whole-hearted anthemic gush to the bitttersweet computerics of In Rainbows.
What I like about the best Radiohead tracks is that they have tunes, whether they’re to be found in post-OK Computer wispy numbers like ‘House Of Cards’, or muscular oldies like ‘Black Star’ (from The Bends). So that’s what my ears are yearning for on their first introduction to The King Of Limbs. That’s what my ears always yearn for. Of course, any other jonesing for rock’s traditional components on the part of my ears would be dashed, since this is, as ET pointed out, rock eviscerated. No gutsy groove. No verve. As free from swagger as cabbage. I don’t think that necessarily has to be a problem, unless that’s all that you look for in music: some of my favourite bands have been quite as bloodless as Radiohead and probably half as clever. There are some tunes here, despite the exsanguinated chittering: some that are even hummable. Just about. ‘Codex’, a plaintive puppy of a track, has a melody that winds itself up slowly with brass and piano until you could just about hug it. Or drown it in a sack. ‘Give Up The Ghost’ layers the wails prettily enough but sounds so like much of In Rainbows for it to be not worth the bother, not even for the extra-achey loop pile-up it makes of itself by the end of the song. (And fuck knows if he’s singing “Don’t hurt me”, “haunt me” or “hate me”: eminently kickable all three.)
The odd thing about tKoL being released all of a journo-confounding sudden is that we’ve had blurbs the world over stumbling over themselves to apologise for the rough draft reviews, all the while panting that this is a record that needs consideration, time, repeated listens to pick out the speeshulness: nice work, Radios. And while it’s true that on my TWENTIETH go round, I am hearing the bones of it better, the fact is I don’t want to have to do this. I don’t want to wait for the click. I don’t want to have to listen on Bang & Olufsen speakers in order to hear the genius: I want the genius right up the front. I want a bit of flash and grab. I want swoon. How bleeding shallow.
And then there’s the ‘Lotus’ video; a video of just Thom, just dancing, and best watched with eyes closed, as someone put it. It is extraordinary in the obvious respect that Thom Yorke Superstar looks like a complete twat in it. He knows he looks like a twat. Either he doesn’t give any kind of shit about the godawful cringe of it all, or he does but is self-hating enough to welcome the shame. What he makes of the Dad-dancing is nudging beautiful in its compulsive terribleness and its peculiarity. I can’t imagine Bono doing the twisty spazzballet moves that Yorke pulls there. I can’t imagine Win Butler doing them either, no nor Matt Berninger; not a single one of them earnest big band megacunts would be able to ace the commitment to twattery that Yorke has managed here. Because they are far too self-consciously cool. Too armoured by half. Too much in with the beautifuls whom Thom Yorke is never going to crack. He, bless him, is still the weirdo. And for that, at least, I admire him.
But the truth is that I don’t really want any of this. I have enough already. It doesn’t make me want to dance or shout or fall in love or howl to the moon or fling myself about (not even in a gimpdouche Yorke style. Oh no): it makes me wanna mope. And here we are in 2011, the world burning, the new and unprecedented and stupendous all around, and the very last thing I want to do is mope.